Oldest Known Maya Painting Found in Guatemala.

U.S. archeologists have unearthed the oldest known Maya painting, a 30-foot-long, brightly colored mural that depicts the Maya creation myth, the divine rights of kings and the coronation of the first human king in Mayan society.

The paint-on-plaster image, nearly 2,100 years old, predates other depictions of the creation myth by several centuries and is "perhaps the most important new [Maya] find in many, many years," said archeologist Francisco Estrada-Belli of Vanderbilt University, who was not involved in the discovery.

"It's the equivalent for the Maya of the biblical account of Genesis, but it's more than that because it provides a link between the gods of creation and the Maya kings," he said.

And that story has passed down almost unchanged to the modern era, said archeologist William Saturno of the University of , who discovered the mural.

"A Mayan today could say, 'This story is the same story I tell my kids,'." he said.

The finding also supports the arguments of many researchers that the so-called late pre-Classic period from about 300 BC to AD 300 was not substantially different from the Classic period that encompassed the following 600 years.

Many archeologists have argued that the pre-Classic societies were not fully civilized because they did not have writing and they did not have formal kingships similar to those of later periods.

The new mural discounts both of those arguments "without any doubt," Estrada-Belli said.

It shows that they had a sophisticated system of writing and that the kings obtained and exercised their powers with all the trappings and symbols of kingship found in later Mayan societies.

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